Lines and corners.

Dale Forbes:

I am going to warn you in advance that this post is really, really boring.

A sure cure for insomnia–just try to read it twice.

But, in my experience actually doing a good corner–one that leaves you ready and prepared for whatever is next is a skill that needs attention.  I know it did from me and since I rarely see people do them correctly, I assume it is a problem for others.

The main reason we care about a correctly-balanced corner is that it sets us up to succeed on whatever else we might have planned on the line after that corner.  Loss of balance and equine “line up” in the corner means you will enter the straight line with loss of balance and crookedness–all needing fixing.  Best not to jump off the cliff in the first place.

(Another reason for a correct corner might be to show off to the judge that we know the difference between a circle and “not a circle” at the lower level–something they appreciate.)


The dressage arena.  Now isn’t that a beautiful thing?

And though we know there are support groups to aid in quitting this kind of obsession, here is how a corner in the dressage arena should work.

Goal: As stated, landing straight after the corner.

Process: Horse positions nicely at the poll several steps before the corner, balancing evenly on all four equine corners (no tip), proceeds through the arena corner (sitting down just a tiny bit, depending on level). The horse is then softly straightened on the outside rein to whatever degree it will need either straightness or bend in the next project.

Sounds easy.

Here are some things to practice that will make it even easier.

The basic skill that the horse must master is transferring weight onto outside hind leg in the turn instead of inside front leg when he feels the inside rein.  This lesson is critically coupled with an utterly straight rider approaching the corner like they are going to jump out of the arena–in preparation–you are not turning, YET–only after the re-balancing has been accomplished.

People frequently do these actions too close together with a green horse.  He or she needs a bit of time to figure things out.  Step, 1, step 2, step 3.  Plus it is more fun that way.  Three chances to communicate.  All the better.  When your horse understands the steps they appear to happen all at once.  They do not.  It is always done in stages–just very close together.  (And this, once habituated, leads to a blissful, competent “slow down” in the mental pace of your ride–a nice thing).

First off the beast must understand when you pull slightly on the rein to position/bend it does not actually mean “turn” UNLESS the body of the rider says, “Yes, we are turning,” by initiating facing the new direction in the upper body.

This is the “take your best guess approach” for the beast.

For any transition aid there is more than one cue (or sequence of cues) that enables the horse to give you his “best guess”.

There are only a limited number of aids possible and you have to disconnect (in your own body and the beast’s) that a slight pull on the rein means turn–it only means that when the other aids are in agreement.

What to do: First practice riding a straight line–down the center line is good.

1. Make sure you are projecting your line–riding absolutely straight yourself, looking at a target at eye level.

2. Do not waver from that target in the slightest and go about teaching your horse to slightly position while still stepping forward on the line. Not so much that the balance is lost.  Make do with a little at first.  This will improve with practice. He or she may try to attempt to turn in that moment of positioning.  If so kindly redirect, checking your self for errors.  You can do this lots of times on a single straight line.  In fact that helps.

Why must you do this practice totally unrelated to an actual corner?

Because you cannot easily tell loss of line (and balance) in the corner–because you are in the middle of turning!  And, as above, loss of balance in the corner means you will enter the straight line with loss of balance.

Common rider mistakes at this point:

A. Losing focal point, looking down at bend/horse’s shoulder.

B. Raising rider’s outside shoulder and hip while looking down at bend. (Effectively releasing haunches–haunches will move into that vacuum).

C. Noting horse getting crooked and “falling on inside shoulder”, then fiercely using inside leg to “prevent such falling in”–which was actually caused by drifting hind end, caused in turn by rider’s body not lined up correctly. Inside leg has nothing to do with it–though it has many other interesting uses.

Do not worry, if this takes some practice.  There is a reason that the dressage arena has four corners–it give us a chance to practice frequently and hopefully perfectly.  Practice right, it gets better, practice wrong–not so much so.  The old, “if you are in a hole quit digging” thing.

Back to the beginning.  As in all problems decide what the real problem is.  In this case horse is losing balance necessary to position and needs both steering and assistance to prevent that.  They also need to understand what it is you want.  Give them a chance.  Correct yourself


If the rein is slightly used to indicate positioning, and the rider stays utterly straight in their focus, aids and intention the horse has a chance to figure out, “Oh this is different.”  If you lift your outer side and change your body like you are doing an (incorrect) turn how’s the beast to know?  That’s why practicing this skill unrelated to turns is so critical.

And in fact why doing definite lines and corners is a great way to school.

Still with me? If you want to see something more interesting go see the post on “Swing over the back.”

There is a nice clip of riding a very gently group of turns.  We’ll add a video of a true corner next week.

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